COLOMBO (AFP) – Virat Kohli’s buoyant India will chase their first series win in Sri Lanka in 22 years when the third and decisive final Test starts in Colombo on Friday.
The tourists thrashed the hosts by 278 runs in the second Test at the P. Sara Oval in Colombo on Monday to level the series after Sri Lanka had won the opening match in Galle by 63 runs.
But before they step on the field at the Sinhalese sports club, both camps will attempt to sort out injury and personnel issues to find the right combination for the decider.
India, who have not won a Test series on the island since 1993, will be without the injured trio of regular openers Murali Vijay and Shikhar Dhawan, plus wicketkeeper Wriddhiman Saha.
Sri Lanka will begin a new era following the retirement of batting great Kumar Sangakkara from international cricket after the second Test looking to fill a major void in the top order.
With Mahela Jayawardene quitting Test cricket last year, Sri Lanka find themselves short of experience.
Veteran left-arm spinner Rangana Herath has played 62 Tests and skipper Angelo Mathews 51, but no others in the squad have more than 22 Test caps.
Sangakkara’s decision not to play all three Tests in a series as he wound down his career had already cost Sri Lanka two months ago. He elected to miss the decider against Pakistan in Pallekele in June, a game the hosts lost by seven wickets.
Mathews said he regretted not giving Sangakkara a winning farewell, but vowed to fight back and win the series for him.
“It really pains me that we could not give him a good farewell, but I promised him that we will play the next game well and try to win the series for him,” the Sri Lankan captain said.
Sri Lanka are expected to replace the 134-Test veteran with another left-hander, Upul Tharanga, who has scored 1,113 runs in 20 Tests at an average of 31.80.
India, meanwhile, are likely to play top-order batsman Cheteshwar Pujara, for the first time in the series, as opening partner for Lokesh Rahul in the absence of Dhawan and Vijay.
Uncapped 32-year-old Naman Ojha, a wicketkeeper-batsman who reinforced the injury-hit touring squad on Monday along with young batsman Karun Nair, could come in for Saha.
“Pujara is pretty solid with the new ball,” said Kohli.
“He has done the job in the past and we are very confident he will do the job in the next game as well.”
India will once again bank on their spin twins, Ravichandran Ashwin and Amit Mishra, who shared 14 of the 20 wickets in the second Test to fashion the team’s emphatic win.
Mathews conceded Sri Lankan batsmen needed to find a way to tackle off-spinner Ashwin, who followed his 10-wicket haul in the first Test with seven scalps at the P. Sara Oval.
“We have a lot of left-handers in our line-up and it makes it easier for Ashwin to be aggressive against them,” Mathews said of Ashwin, who dismissed Sangakkara in all four innings in the series.
“We need to find a way to counter-attack him. We can’t just hang around. He will bowl the odd good ball anyway in an over, so we need to score runs.”
The last time Sri Lanka played a Test at the SSC a year ago, they swamped Pakistan by 105 runs to break a sequence of four successive draws on a traditionally high-scoring pitch.
India have lost two and drawn three of their last five matches at the venue. Their lone success at the SSC was the series-clinching 235-run victory in 1993.